Political Science 350

Spring 1999


Professor: Laurence Cooper

Office: Willis 416

Phone: x4111 (Office)

Email: lcooper@carleton.edu

Office Hours

I. Purpose and Scope

Few could have imagined, though Nietzsche himself anticipated, that he would become a decisive influence on the thought of the twentieth century. Increasingly, Nietzsche has proven to be the philosopher of our time, influencing our thinking about nature, human nature, social relations, and even truth itself. Yet Nietzsche seems to have intended to be more than just an influence. He believed that the core issues of civilization -- one's values, how one lives, and how one views the world -- are determined by philosophers, and he meant to be the philosopher for the coming age. "The greatest thoughts are the greatest events," he wrote, and "genuine philosophers are commanders and legislators." It is in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that we encounter Nietzsche's most sustained attempt to legislate along with his most comprehensive explanation and justification of his project. Among the many questions to be considered throughout the duration of the course, three in particular stand out as especially important. First is the question of whether Nietzsche's views, including the parts that have already become popular, are compatible with the political liberalism that most of us still subscribe to. Second is the question of whether the destructive part of Nietzsche' project -- his withering critique of all prior attempts to find firm foundations for politics, morality, and even knowledge -- doesn't undercut or invalidate the constructive part. (For example, if all supposed knowledge is merely interpretation, how can Nietzsche defend his own apparent claims to knowledge?) Finally and most fundamentally, there is the question of the goodness of Nietzsche's vision: how well does it reflect and fulfill the requirements and limits of our being? We may find that we are drawn to Nietzsche's vision, or that we are repelled by it, or something in between (more likely, something of both). Whatever we ultimately conclude about him, though, it is well to understand him, for his influence, if anything, is still on the rise.

II. Course Requirements

By far the most important requirement is that you read all assigned passages closely and before class. Zarathustra is as lively a book of philosophy as has been written; although it presents a series of speeches it also has a plot and contains numerous songs or poems. But it is also, by design, a difficult book to penetrate, full of oracular speeches and many subtle references to religious and philosophic works. For that reason, reading assignments will be comparatively brief, and you should read the assignments more than once. Grades will be based on class participation (one third) and a seminar paper (two thirds).

III. Class Schedule

Our reading will consist of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in its entirety along with occasional passages from Nietzsche's other works. Some of these non-Zarathustra passages will be found in The Portable Nietzsche (ed. and trans. Kaufmann), which is available for purchase in the bookstore; others will be on hand-outs to be distributed in class. Reading assignments for upcoming class meetings will be given as we proceed: although I have a tentative schedule in mind, I'd like to let the meetings move at their own pace (within reason). For next class (i.e. our second meeting) read Zarathustra, First Part, "Zarathustra's Prologue" (pp. 121-37) and aphorism 125 of The Gay Science (pp. 95-96).